12 Signs You Should Be Open Water Swimming

by SwimSwam 18

April 08th, 2015 Lifestyle, Open Water

Courtesy of Kirsten Read

Open Water swimming is similar to pool swimming because, well, you’re swimming…but that’s where the similarities end. If you can recognize yourself in any or all of the following, then maybe you should be open water swimming.

  1. ACHOO.  Just swam a great pool workout but the sneezing and itching begins just about the time you towel off. Can a chlorine allergy develop out of nowhere? You bet. You are tiring of the question, “Do you still have a cold?”
  1. SOME LIKE IT HOT. But you do not. They keep the pool much too warm for your liking, presumably to placate the older crowd.
  1. CROWDED LANES. Online forums are filled with stories of swimmers getting into near-fisticuffs with teammates, noodlers, aqua runners, and recreational swimmers who insist on swimming in the fast lane or refuse to follow lane etiquette. If you have natural water near you, go for it!
  1. BABY RUTH. You are periodically turned away at the pool, closed unexpectedly due to the discovery of the most unsavory kind of object in the water.
  1. THE WALLS. Do you gain on people on the straightaways only to come up short after the turn and push-off, no matter how hard you try to streamline and not sneak that breath before and after the turn? Forget the walls and go swimming outside, the way it was meant to be.
  1. HOLD YOUR HEAD UP. You may have been told by a sarcastic lane mate that you drag your legs behind you like felled timber (ok, at least I have). Or your coach has told you ad nauseam to keep your head down. This may be a sign that you instinctively swim in an energy-conserving manner consistent with some of the best marathon swimmers in the world. (At least that’s what I tell myself.) Or you ride high in the water and are a natural for sighting. Take these aptitudes out into an environment where they can benefit you.
  1. WHAT LIES BENEATH. You are not afraid that a shark or Jason is going to attack at any moment. A slimy seaweed encounter or thoughts of a clam slamming your toe doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies. Some people with fears can learn to conquer or manage them to coexist comfortably with marine life in its home.
  1. STRATEGY. Racing a mile in open water versus a 1650 is apples and oranges. You will have to negotiate the mass start, jockey for position, navigate buoys, and perhaps even (gasp) have to run at the finish line. The unknown is worrisome and wonderful at the same time.
  1. YOU LIKE IT ROUGH. Let’s face it, swimming the black line can be mundane and predictable. It’s stimulating and challenging to swim in waves, chop, roll and other dicey conditions.
  1. DRAFTING. One of your pool pet peeves is when people draft you because they sit on your feet set after set and refuse to go ahead. At least in open water you can try to swim away or stop and usher them by. Conversely, drafting is legal in most OW races and can be a winning strategy if done correctly and with respect. Caveat: be very careful not to touch other swimmers. After all, this is their swim too. If you do inadvertently touch them, adjust your position.
  1. SENSE OF ADVENTURE. You relish the fact that no two swims are exactly the same. Whether you stopped to chat with your chums at that protruding pine across Walden Pond or raced 2.4 miles from Peaks Island to Portland, Maine, you can’t really compare your time to the last because the conversation, conditions, and currents, to name just a few, make each experience as unique as a finger print.
  1. ZEN. Heading out to the nearest lake, pond, or ocean is the highlight of your day. It’s your happy place, where problems seem to vanish, frayed nerves are calmed, fitness is found, and life is put back into proper perspective.

Kirsten Read, Headshot Kirsten competed at Brown University and then, after typical shoulder problems and burn-out caused undoubtedly by her tenure in The Distance Lane, promised herself that she would hang up her goggles for good. That promise lasted 20 years until the call was too strong to resist.  Masters pool swimming soon segued into a passion for open water swimming. Masters swimming has introduced her to some of her best friends and even her husband, who kayaked for her on an strenuous and eventful blind date at the Nubble Light Challenge in York, Maine.

She is now a coach, specializing in open water for masters swimmers and triathletes. 

Kirsten Read, coaching business logowww.kgrcoaching.com

Follow Kirsten Read on Twitter here.

Like Kirsten Read on Facebook here. 





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6 years ago

So well written. I have always been attracted to the open water for all the reasons listed. Thanks for the great article!

kari K
6 years ago

Very true, well except the part about the water in the pool being too cold. For me, the warmer the water the better. Bring on the tropics!

6 years ago

Re: 6. As head position goes up, so does energy cost. Open water swimmers have a bit more wiggle room here due to the enhanced buoyancy of salt water and the use of a wetsuit, but I wouldn’t make a virtue out of a vice. No one “rides high” in the water. We slog through it. Instinctive choices in swimming are nearly always poor ones, which explains why most humans are so terrible at it.

Reply to  StrokeDoctor
6 years ago

Check out Eney Jones’ excellent piece on the merits of high head position in open water:


6 years ago

Well written article and mostly spot on. #9: while I occasionally enjoy the challenge of a rough day, there’s no feeling quite like pulling through the miles on a glassy morning.

6 years ago

I was the Jason of my team. Fear me.

Great article! #11 made me think of Virtual reality bikes. I wonder if they ever could even combine endless pools with virtual reality walls. They could have you swimming in the ocean, on Marina Bay Sands, through SkyScrapers, in the air, in space; the list goes on.

6 years ago

I can’t agree with Nr. 2. There are also OW swimmers that hate cold water! Besides, the water temperature in many races is rather hotter than in the pool. My favorite water temperature in the OW is around 25 Celsius.

Reply to  Openwaterswimmer
6 years ago

25 Celcius is 77 fahrenheit — Sounds wonderful to me! They keep our pool at 83. I am not a big fan of cold water either. Too bad I am in Maine…

6 years ago

I enjoyed this article and love swimming in open water. Ironically it was my first ocean race that inspired me to join Masters swimming in the pool.

6 years ago

Even if all the other reasons are true, #2 is actually the biggest impediment for me for doing OW — they keep our pool at 29/84 and that’s about perfect (and I swim faster). If it’s 25/77 I might already think about wearing a wetsuit shorty (and actually already did so in the past in cold pools).